William Waldorf Astor was born in New York City and the only child of John Jacob Astor in 1822. He was educated in Germany and Italy and finally studied law at Columbia Law School. He worked for a short time in a law firm before becoming his fathers business manager. In 1878 he was married to Mary Dahlgren Paul and went into politics and served as a New York State Assemblyman and a Senator. He was twice defeated in a bid for the United States Congress and President Chester A. Arthur appointed him minister to Italy, a post he held for three years.
Upon the death of his father in 1890 he inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America. On the 7th of November plans were filed with the New York City Building Department for a new hotel to be built on the site of the old family home, after a family feud with an Aunt. He moved his family to England. In 1897 his cousin John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria Hotel next door and eventually the two were joined together to become The Waldorf Astoria that we know today.
After leaving America for England with his family, he only returned to America once and gave up his American citizenship to apply for and obtain a British one. The Astor's first home was rented Landsdown House in London until 1893 when he purchased the Cliveden Estate from the 1st Duke of Westminister. In 1899 Astor became a British Citizen and in 1903 bought Hever Castle in Kent. The huge estate was built in 1270 and it is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who lived there as a child.
In 1906 he gave Cliveden to his son Waldorf William Astor as a wedding present when he married Nancy Langhorne. In 1916 King George V created him Baron Astor of Hever and a year later he was elevated to that of a Viscount. This was for his philanthropic works for the nation during the first world war.
He died in Brighton, Sussex in 1919 and his ashes are buried beneath the marble floor of the family chapel floor at Cliveden.